"Drive an E-Class once and you’ll want to drive it forever": this certainly seems to reflect the mindset of the participants in the E Class marathon who have decided to purchase the very vehicles which they drove from Paris to Beijing. Before they could embark on their second career as private cars or show vehicles exhibited by sponsorship partners and Mercedes-Benz subsidiaries in various countries, these reliable business saloons once again had to travel tens of thousands of kilometres. But, in contrast to the demanding outward journey, this time they were travelling as well-protected cargo.

The fleet of E-Class Experience cars had covered almost 14,000 kilometres by the time it reached the Chinese capital some six weeks ago. But the vehicles were still a very long way from their ultimate destination: before they could be handed over to their new owners, they had to make a "pit stop" at the DaimlerChrysler plant in Sindelfingen where each E-Class would be cleared by customs and given a thorough technical checkover.

E-Class Experience
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The return trip from the Middle Kingdom consisted of several stages: trucks transported the cars from the Chinese capital to Xingang, the nearest port, where they were loaded onto a container ship which carried them the 11,450 nautical miles (21,300 kilometres) to Hamburg. The final leg of their journey took place last Monday, when a fleet of trucks brought them home to the Sindelfingen plant.

Many participants had already taken out purchase options on "their" beloved E-Class vehicles during the marathon trip to Beijing and can now hardly wait to take delivery of their loyal travelling companions. One of the benefits of staking their claim at an early stage is that their cars retain their striking markings, comprising the Paris-Beijing logo, national flags and number. Another characteristic which remains unchanged is the raised (by five centimetres) suspension for tropical conditions which proved invaluable on the many rough roads encountered on the trip through nine countries and across two continents.

No. 20 causes a stir in Paris while No. 32 steals the show in the Benelux countries

From mid-January, visitors to the Mercedes-Benz Centre in Paris will be able to see one of these vehicles with its original markings. DaimlerChrysler France will be showing its E-Class (Number 20) in an exhibition celebrating the centenary of the Beijing-Paris rally. Number 20, one of two taxis participating in the Paris to Beijing run, holds the distinction of being one of the most widely travelled taxis in the annals of marathon motoring – an achievement which also testifies to the dedication of the team of professional Paris taxi drivers who took turns at the wheel. E-Class Number 32, driven by Team Benelux, will also be in the public eye, starting with an appearance at the Luxemburg "Auto-Festival" from January 27 to February 5.

E-Class Experience
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It is just a stone’s throw from Sindelfingen to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, the final destination of another two of the vehicles. These E-Class models will be displayed in recognition of their historic role as participants in the longest diesel marathon run ever undertaken. Following the E-Class Experience, the Chinese team’s car (Number 29) passed into the possession of DC China. This year will also see the start of series production of the new Mercedes-Benz model in China.

A car for enthusiasts and winners

Marathon participant Gerhard Schnürer from California received "his" E-Class in a somewhat unconventional way: car Number 22 – one of the three marathon vehicles featuring BLUETEC technology specially developed for the US market – reached him by "air mail" from Beijing on December 3. The ardent Mercedes-Benz collector, who had travelled from Paris to St. Petersburg in one of the E-Class models, has a weakness for technically exceptional vehicles. Commenting on the latest addition to his garage, this German-American said: "I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own one of the marathon vehicles and to be able to say that I was part of this and helped to make history".

On January 26, another of the E-Class models is set to receive an enthusiastic response from a lady who lives near Munich. This is the day the winner of the eBay Christmas lottery receives the keys to her new car at the company’s headquarters near Berlin. The company, which had sponsored "Number 03" on the Paris to Beijing run, offered the car in a prize draw on the Internet shortly before Christmas.

Officially, the 2006 Paris-Beijing run may be over, but the vehicles which participated in it are certain to keep memories of this sensational event alive for a long time to come.

Blas Nicusor
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